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How to Buy a Bike

in How to Buy a Bike

This post includes two sections – one section by my Dad on how to buy a new bike, and one section by me on how to buy a used bike.  My dad and I have been bike riding together since I was a little kid!

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This post discusses how to buy a road bike (for racing, club rides, or triathlons), but a lot of the principles can be applied to a hybrid or mountain bike.

 

You can learn more about my Dad’s cycling background (which is extensive and awesome!) on this post.

 

How to Buy a New Bike by HTP Dad

 

Caitlin mentioned that her readers have asked about what kind of bike to buy, or how much you should spend, or why so many people in bike stores are not so friendly to newbies in the sport. I’ve done a lot of cycling, so here’s my take on it.

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A lot of people ask Caitlin and I which brand of bike they should buy.  There are many good brands, like Specialized, Trek, Giant, Fuji, etc.  The bike business is SO competitive, whatever brand they sell you will probably be fine. A good vibe from the store and after service sales is probably more important than the actual bike brand you purchase.

 

Read this article on Bike Fit to brush up on your basic knowledge about getting sized for a bicycle.  Make sure you know the proper frame size, and push them to help get you in the ball park for fit. Since you know a little bit about bike fit – even knowing just to ask for it – it’ll probably go well.

 

Now – how much do you REALLY need to spend on a bike?

 

I’ll use Trek for an example, because they are huge in the bike market.

 

The Road 1.1 WSD (woman specific design) has a list price of $659, and if you are a fitness rider, and your big annual event might be a metric century (62 miles) you’ll be fine with this. If you plan on riding a lot (30-50 miles a week) a little more money will buy a lot more reliability.

The Road 1.5 WSD brings  you up to the previous generation of technology for $1059. The big difference? 9 gears instead of 8 in the rear, and some minor upgrades in other components. If you’re going to be ride even more, one more step up would be worthwhile – but by that point, you’re a serious cyclist.

The Road 2.1 WSD at $1369 gets you into high quality, current generation parts. Honestly, at this point, you’ll be riding a bike better than pro’s rode fifteen years ago.

From this point up – and up can be way up – you will get the reliability to ride thousands of miles annually, in any kind of weather conditions, with low maintenance.

 

There are two ways to spend lot’s more money: get crazy about low weight and  what is known as "bike jewelry" – top of the line components that, really are beautiful in their boxes when you buy them. Low weight – unless you really are a very serious, competitive cyclist – is not that big a deal. Two water bottles weigh almost 5 pounds – and I had very few seasons where I couldn’t have lost 8 or ten pounds myself.

 

A secret? If you want a sportier feel, buy a set of high performance, light weight wheels and pop them on a more affordable bicycle.

 

Yes, a more expensive bike will feel more responsive, and ultimately be faster – just like a Ferrari is more fun to drive than a Ford truck  – but the engine (YOU!) is the important part. Start riding!

 

How to Buy a Used Bike by HTP Caitlin

 

When I first started riding, I had no idea if I would stick with it or not.  Plus, I was only 1 year into my first full-time job and was planning a wedding.  I didn’t want to drop $700 – $1400 on a bike.   So… I found a used one!  My Giant bike was originally $1400 and I snagged it for $350.

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When buying a used bike, my first piece of advice is to read up on Bike Fit and then go to a bike shop to look at new bikes.  Get on a few bikes and find out what size you want to look for.  While you’re at the shop, buy some bike shorts or a water bottle – you’ll need it anyway!

 

Your best resources for a used bike are Ebay.com and Craiglist.com.  I prefer Craigslist because you can actually see the bike in person.

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The most important thing is that the frame has not been damaged or cracked, which is the sign of a serious crash.  Rusty chains and other minor defects can be easily fixed at the shop, but a bad frame is a big deal.  So inspect the bike carefully for any cracks. 

 

If you plan on racing, you definitely want drop handle bars (like my pink ones, above) NOT a straight bar.

 

Lastly, make sure you HAGGLE.   I think both of the bikes above are overpriced and would convince the seller to drop at least $100 to $150 off.  Google the current price of that bike (especially if it’s a newer bike “only ridden once” – everyone says that and odds are that it’s NOT true).  Point out old tires, rusty chains, peeling paint jobs – whatever.  Remember that everyone overprices things so they can negotiate them down later!  Don’t be afraid to ask.  Worse case scenario, they say no and you keep looking.

 

Buying a used bike can be time-consuming (it took me weeks!), but the payoff is worthwhile.

 

Happy Biking!  If you have any questions for my dad or I, feel free to ask in the comments section.

 

Do you have a bike?  Is it new or used?  What advice can you give to other bike shoppers?

{ 64 comments }

 

Leave a Comment

  • Jessica @ How Sweet February 2, 2010, 11:08 am

    My dad and I have biked our entire lives together, too! He races, but I have yet to race. I have new Trek – not new since I’ve had it for years, but I bought it new. I am not a seasoned biked and really just bike for fun, so I don’t have a ton of advice. I just know about 150 milers my dad get’s really sick of bananas. :)

    Reply
  • Jenn @ Livewellfit February 2, 2010, 11:11 am

    What an absolute fantastic post! So much info in there. :)

    Reply
  • Jenn @ Livewellfit February 2, 2010, 11:11 am

    What an absolute fantastic post! So much info in there. :)

    Reply
  • bec February 2, 2010, 11:12 am

    I am a trek girl too Jessica! My biggest piece of advice for any type of bike new or used is make sure you actually get on the bike and ride it. Even if the size guide says the frame size is appropriate for height you won’t really know until you actually get on the bike.

    Reply
  • Erin February 2, 2010, 11:13 am

    I have to disagree about the drop v. straight handlebar…I’ve always had a straight bar and I’ve biked long distances (70+ miles at a time) and it works just fine for me. Drop handlebars give me backaches, actually. I just think, to each her own :)

    Reply
    • caitlin February 2, 2010, 11:14 am

      You must have a back of steel!!!! :) Super muscles!

      The reason I recommend drop bars is because you can change positions on them – down low, up high. On a straight bar, you only have up high. After a long ride, it can kill you to stay in only one position.

      Reply
      • Erin February 2, 2010, 11:19 am

        Oh yes, that is definitely true! I’ve found ways to maneuver on my straight bar, so maybe we’re talking about the same thing.
        All this talk about biking is making me long for spring and biking weather! Good luck training for your tri & bike race!

        Reply
    • Peter February 2, 2010, 12:25 pm

      Hi Erin,
      I’m glad the straight bars are working for you. The most common reason for back ache on a bike is a top tube that is too short. Sometimes a longer stem can help. Of course, YMMV.
      Have fun this year!

      Reply
  • Megan @ Megzz Wins At Life February 2, 2010, 11:15 am

    Thank you for all the great information.. I bookmarked this post for the future :-)

    Thank your dad as well!

    Reply
  • Sarah @ The Foodie Diaries February 2, 2010, 11:16 am

    haggling is SO important on craigslist. when i was shopping for bikes this summer, the shittiest ones were SO overpriced

    Reply
  • Julie @ Wearing Mascara February 2, 2010, 11:17 am

    This is SO helpful! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I want to start racing and riding more frequently, but cannot even imagine spending a lot of money on a bike right now. You’ve given me confidence to look into a used bike instead (and $350 IS a steal!).

    Reply
  • Lauren @ Eater not a runner February 2, 2010, 11:19 am

    Great post! I am going to do some craigslist searching myself….

    Reply
  • Jess (A Fete For Food) February 2, 2010, 11:22 am

    This is so very helpful. After I finish the Boston Marathon in April, I KNOW I’m going to be looking for a new type of training… I started looking on Craigslist and realized I was wasting my time not knowing what I was looking for. I currently own a men’s Trek from about 1981. Time for an upgrade. Thanks for the helpful info!

    Reply
  • Shannon (The Daily Balance) February 2, 2010, 11:23 am

    awesome post! The Mister and I just bought bikes in December (also TREK!) we took advantage of the 2009 models needed to get cleared out for 2010!

    Reply
  • megan February 2, 2010, 11:23 am

    I’ve had the same bike since I was like 12 years old. I really want a new one, but mine still works and I don’t ride that often, so it just doesn’t make sense right now. i’d love to have those drop handlebars though.

    Reply
  • Morgan @ Life After Bagels February 2, 2010, 11:25 am

    hey thanks for including the used bike info . . . me and my bf say every year that we’re going to buy a used bike but never do, hopefully we will this summer

    Reply
  • Kelly February 2, 2010, 11:25 am

    I bought a bike last year and I absolutely love it. For me the important thing was (like your Dad said) finding a good store that was helpful as I was purchasing it, and will be helpful if I have to go back and get anything fixed etc. My place did all the fitting etc for me and they were very welcoming to new cylists.

    Reply
  • Heather (Heather's Dish) February 2, 2010, 11:25 am

    i have a bike that we bought new, and it’s pretty good! it’s a mountain bike not a road one, which is kind of a bummer since i’d much rather ride on the road and NOT in the mountains (or on terrain), but its still fun :)

    Reply
  • Freya @ foodfitnessandfreya.wordpress.com February 2, 2010, 11:45 am

    Old bike, very skanky bike, never used bike!
    I need a new bike…

    Reply
  • Sara @ ActiveGal February 2, 2010, 11:47 am

    This is great! Thanks so much! I will have to look at used bikes and see if they are more in my price range! Did you have to do any extra work to you bike once you bought it?

    Reply
    • Caitlin February 2, 2010, 7:01 pm

      I got new tires and new tape. I just replaced the chainring ($140) but thats because I crashed and broke it. :(

      Reply
  • Jen C. February 2, 2010, 11:54 am

    I’m kind of a new cyclist (one year), but I ride 250-300 miles a week with my boyfriend. I got my bike from a store because it was a previous season model and was SUPER cheap!

    Another way to save money is to buy each part separately – frame, pedals, wheels, etc. My boyfriend and I scour eBay, Roadbikereview.com and qbike.com. Fortunately, he’s a bike guru, so he can put everything together for us.

    For races, we plan on buying one pair of sweet race wheels and sharing (we’ll have to plan our races around that). But last year for his Ironman, he just rented wheels for $100 (the wheels themselves cost $4,000!).

    I think newbies (like myself) get caught up with the weight of our bikes in the beginning, but we need to remember that weight is good for training!

    Reply
    • Laura February 2, 2010, 6:29 pm

      I bought a previous year’s model, too, and got it at an enormous discount off of MSRP…

      Reply
  • Kelly February 2, 2010, 11:59 am

    Awesome post! I actually got my road bike on a whim. I borrowed one for a triathlon and trained on it. I fell in love with it and after it was over the owner offered to sell it to me. Since I had already gotten used to it…it was the perfect fit!

    Reply
  • RhodeyGirl February 2, 2010, 12:12 pm

    Thanks, Caitlin! I just forwarded this to PB.

    Random question: I have an old bike that I only used for short bike trips around college. It is a decent Gary Fisher bike, but I am not sure what type it is. Can I train for and complete a sprint triathlon with it without problems? The bike portion is only 11 miles.

    Reply
    • Peter February 2, 2010, 12:28 pm

      sure you can – better to race and have fun than sit at home!

      Reply
    • Caitlin February 2, 2010, 7:02 pm

      I agree with Dad – you can still do it! Esp at sprints, you see a lot of hybrids. :)

      Reply
  • Karissa @ CardioFoodie February 2, 2010, 12:16 pm

    This was such a great post. I am looking to buy a bike this Spring and this gave me a lot of information and tips! Thanks!

    Reply
  • Tyler February 2, 2010, 12:37 pm

    good advice! i bought my bike a cycle store (on sale! yay!), but i really had no idea what i was doing! turned out well though….i love my bike! and definitely ride a bike around a little before you buy it. not only will this help you make sure you get the right size, but you get to see how smoothly the gears work is important, too!

    Reply
  • Diana (Mymarblerye) February 2, 2010, 12:41 pm

    I knew you would post a topless pic of yourself eventually on your blog…JUST KIDDING. Great bike tips. I currently own a huffy…and I do leisure bike rides.

    Reply
  • Teacherwoman February 2, 2010, 12:45 pm

    If I remember correctly, I bought a Trek Pilot 2.1. I actually got sized/fitted for the right kind of bike at my LBS, researched what they had in my size and such and went back the next day to put it on lay-away. This was in February and I had 6 months to pay it off. This was perfect because I paid about $150 each month until April when I paid it off in complete and got all my necessary accessories at the time. It was a model from the year before, so it was about half price. A steal in my mind!

    Reply
  • Jamie February 2, 2010, 12:49 pm

    I have a stellar Trek full suspension mountain bike – it was such a huge investment for a high schooler and i love the thing to death!

    Reply
  • Erin February 2, 2010, 2:06 pm

    I just got my first bike last fall (My dads old bike which my family refers to as the “red rocket”…had to be there I guess) and am looking forward to the springtime to get back out there. I’m still a little weary about the clip-on shoes and hopefully can work that out before my tri in May!

    Reply
  • Little Aspects February 2, 2010, 2:28 pm

    I have a Cannondale that I bought secondhand 5 years ago for $300(AU). I took a cyclist friend with me to check it out and luckily it was a perfect fit (I’m very small, so I thought that finding a second hand bike to fit me would be quite hard – I got lucky!). I love riding it but I’m really not confident riding on the road in my area. The streets are narrow and the cars are crazy – there is a realy lack of respect towards cyclists in Sydney. Canberra, on the other hand, is full of beautiful bike paths and I love going down there to ride my bike!
    Any tips on gaining confidence riding on the road?

    Reply
    • Caitlin February 2, 2010, 7:04 pm

      oh man. hard question. there are definitely some places i wont bike on the road. i just try to stay hyper aware 100% of the time – you cant let your mind wander like during a run!!

      Reply
  • Susan February 2, 2010, 2:33 pm

    I have a Scott Speedster that I bought on eBay for $600. Pretty frickin cheap for that bike, but not cheap for a bike in general. Your dad is right about putting nice wheels on a not so nice bike. Same goes with upgrading the components. One thing I love about my Scott is that is has three chain rings instead of just two. That little chain ring (aka the “granny gear”) has helped my weak legs get me up some pretty big hills. I’d be toast without it!

    And I’ll reiterate – fit fit fit!! Yes road bikes are uncomfortable, but they don’t have to be THAT uncomfortable. It’s important to get the proper length for the top tube, etc. Also, I’m currently looking into buying a saddle specifically made for women. Proper cycling shorts also saved my crotch :P

    Reply
    • HTP Dad February 3, 2010, 6:22 am

      You’re right about fit – but settling for “not that uncomfortable” is setting the bar too low. If someone rides regularly, and a lot, 5 or 6 hours in a day should not be a problem. Until you run into your physical limits – which are much higher than most people think – every bike pain I ever had was resolved with fit changes or weight lifting to build specific upper body muscles. And ride a lot. History’s best cyclist, Eddy Mercyk, was asked for three training tips – “Ride, ride, ride”.

      Reply
  • Jessica @ Fit Chick Wannabe February 2, 2010, 2:40 pm

    Thanks for all the great tips! I’ve been thinking about getting a bike for a while, but I can’t get over the fear I have of riding. I’m terrified that I will get hit by a car or something!

    Reply
  • Jessica @ WHY DONTCHA RUN February 2, 2010, 2:49 pm

    Wow, Caitlin! Thank you so much for this informative post! I’ve learned a lot and will be certain to refer back to this post when I’m ready to make the leap of purchasing a bike. :) You managed to squeeze a ton of info into this post. THANKS!

    Reply
  • Tonyne @ Unlikely Success Story February 2, 2010, 3:00 pm

    Caitlin and Caitlin’s Dad, thank you so much for all of this information!! I have a bike but I don’t think it fits me at all. This almost has me motivated to try and sell it and start all over! Thank you so much!

    Reply
  • Katie G February 2, 2010, 3:10 pm

    #4 bec
    on Feb 2nd, 2010 at 11:12 am
    I am a trek girl too Jessica! My biggest piece of advice for any type of bike new or used is make sure you actually get on the bike and ride it. Even if the size guide says the frame size is appropriate for height you won’t really know until you actually get on the bike.

    (great advice here!)
    Also, I bought my new bike at a bike shop that offers FREE tune-up for life, this is very helpfuly every season or if something seems a bit off that i can’t fix myself. In the long run, this will save me tons of money!

    Reply
  • Amber K February 2, 2010, 3:24 pm

    I haven’t had a real bike since I was a kid. I will have to check out this blog when I’m in the market for one! Thanks for all of the information.

    Reply
  • Amber K February 2, 2010, 3:24 pm

    I haven’t had a real bike since I was a kid. I will have to check out this blog when I’m in the market for one! Thanks for all of the information.

    Reply
  • Emily Eats and Exercises February 2, 2010, 3:27 pm

    This is a great post! I splurged on a new bike this past summer to train for my first triathlon. I have a specialized bike and I love it.
    Most importantly I found a very friendly store and they spent a long time helping me with all the proper equipment and sizing. Even though there is another good bike shop close to me, I always go to my original store – they’re just much friendlier to a newbie like myself.

    Reply
  • Emily Eats and Exercises February 2, 2010, 3:27 pm

    This is a great post! I splurged on a new bike this past summer to train for my first triathlon. I have a specialized bike and I love it.
    Most importantly I found a very friendly store and they spent a long time helping me with all the proper equipment and sizing. Even though there is another good bike shop close to me, I always go to my original store – they’re just much friendlier to a newbie like myself.

    Reply
  • Laura H. February 2, 2010, 3:44 pm

    Do you have any suggestions about the pros/cons of a “regular” bike and the recumbant style bike your Dad is riding in some of the photos?

    Reply
  • kate February 2, 2010, 3:59 pm

    love this post! i was wondering how terrible of an ideal it is to complete a triathlon with a mountain bike? thats all i have right now & i cant come up with funds to buy a road bike. thanks!

    Reply
    • Caitlin February 2, 2010, 7:06 pm

      if its a sprint tri… you’ll be fine, you will just take longer than a road bike to finish. its more important to just get out there and have fun!

      Reply
  • Lisa (bakebikeblog) February 2, 2010, 4:26 pm

    I have a Giant Defy – which I LOVE!!! I find that most places will knowck 10% off if you ask – or throw in a free helmet etc

    Reply
  • Allison K February 2, 2010, 5:30 pm

    Embarrasingly I’ve had the same bike since I was 13! It’s a trusty old Schwinn. I don’t really like riding my bike, so I’ve never felt the need to replace it. But it’s got tons of miles on it! I used to do this thing called “bike camp” with my church when I was a teen. We would take a week and bike down highway 101 on the oregon coast. We would bike from campground to campground. So much fun! I don’t know if I could hop on my bike and bike 40 miles in one day without training anymore!

    Reply
  • Nicole of Raspberry Stethoscope February 2, 2010, 6:07 pm

    Wow, this post is really giving me thoughts about purchasing a bike. I’ve only had hybrid and mountain bikes, but would love to try a road bike for fitness and maybe a possible race in the future? However, i’m kind of scared…is the drop handle bar uncomfortable…sitting so far forward, etc? Also, i would need a bike rack for my car. I sold my last bike because it wouldn’t fit in my Toyota and I live off a very busy road in St. Pete, so it was just too scary to go out there. I would love to get into cycling because I need a good form of cardio. I’ve tried running numerous times and simply do not like it. But I’ve always loved bikes.
    hmmm, decisions and choices!

    Reply
    • Caitlin February 2, 2010, 7:07 pm

      it is a little uncomfortable but you build up your back muscles and just get used to being in that position. a good fit is key!!!

      Reply
  • Leo @ cupcakes in Paris February 2, 2010, 6:18 pm

    This is such a cute picture of you and your dad! You are adorable!

    Reply
  • Laura February 2, 2010, 6:54 pm

    What is that crazy space-age recumbent bike tent capsule thing your dad is inside of?

    I decided to buy a new bike from a shop (at a major discount of course) rather than a used one via Craig’s because I wanted to establish a relationship with that shop – all tune-ups and regular wear-and-tear maintenance are “free of charge” there forever, so I’m saving big bucks down the road. Just something to think about.

    Reply
    • HTP Dad February 3, 2010, 6:24 am

      it’s a LWB recumbent Gold Rush – easyracers.com _ I once went 68 mph downhill on that bike -

      Reply
  • Jolene (www.everydayfoodie.ca) February 2, 2010, 7:16 pm

    I only have a mountain bike … it is a Kona Stuff.

    Reply
  • Erika February 2, 2010, 10:33 pm

    Fabulous post by both you and your pops :) I have three bikes (i’m a big cyclist)….and the number one thing I would recommend when getting ANY bike is get Fit properly…you can get the best top of the line bike int he world, but if it isn’t fit to YOU (not you to it) you are wasting your money and potentially setting yourself up for injury…unsure about fit? Get to know the local bike shop…if they don’t have the time to help you get fit proper, you don’t want to buy from them :) HUGS
    P.S. I have a trek and two specialized (I love my specialized because it is fit better to me – I went from riding my trek with knee discomfort, neck strain to NO PAIN AT ALL once I learned about fit and got my specialized bikes)

    Reply
  • Cathy February 3, 2010, 4:41 pm

    I don’t really comment on blogs but I read yours all the time Caitlin! I don’t know how I got sucked in but now I’m totally checking it all the time! Anyway, just wanted to tell readers about the company my boyfriend manages, Velo Vie. They manufacture amazing low-weight high-quality road bike frames for less than a Trek or something similar, outfitted with Shimano and other brand-name parts. I’m not a rider but everyone in Arizona (where they’re located but they ship everywhere – they have a bunch of race teams in Italy) is totally smitten with these bikes. Check out the website if you’re interested! http://www.velovie.com

    Sorry, don’t mean to make this an ad, just letting you guys know about companies other than Trek if you want to spend a little less on a new one!

    Reply
    • Caitlin February 3, 2010, 4:51 pm

      thanks for passing this along! i bet a lot of people will appreciate it!

      Reply
  • Dean October 5, 2010, 12:37 am

    So glad to have found this helpful info. I have a hybrid Giant that my boyfriend bought for me a couple of Christmas’ ago. It is probably a tad bit to big for me – it is a Medium and I probably could have used a Small, but I do alright.

    Now, my dilemna is I am planning on doing my first (sprint) triathalon in 2011. I plan to buy road slicks for my current bike and hope that does the trick. If I make tri’s a regular event, then maybe I’ll invest in a road bike.

    Reply
  • Melissa April 17, 2011, 8:30 pm

    Thanks for this post! I’ve been considering buying a bike, but not sure about sticking to it. I love spin classes and actually teach them and want to take my workout outdoors. Plus my boyfriend rides and I think this would be something fun to do with him. Thanks again!

    Reply
  • Kim April 17, 2011, 8:42 pm

    I bought a Trek Navigator for my birthday this year. My husband liked it so much and couldn’t keep up and ended up buying his on sale in January. We ride several times a week now!

    Reply
  • Shaun Kell April 19, 2012, 11:07 am

    Just found your blog from Operation Beautiful site–what a wonderful pairing! As a cyclist (racing mountain bikes mostly, but I do the local group road rides in the summer to stay fast), I get questions all the time from people who are interested in the sport. I LOVE Dad’s line “Honestly, at this point, you’ll be riding a bike better than pro’s rode fifteen years ago.” Bike buying advice here is spot on, IMHO. It also helps if you can find an experienced cyclist to guide you.
    Other new-to-cycling tips:
    -befriend your local shop, even if you didn’t buy your bike there.
    -most places have a newbie-friendly (AKA “C- group,” “no-drop”)group ride once a week. Check it out. Road cycling is so much more fun with others. And riding in a group is a great way to learn about skills, safe routes, and to meet other cyclists.
    -if you decide you like cycling, consider clipless pedals. I know it’s scary, but the benefits far outweigh the learning curve. It’s the single greatest performance upgrade in cycling.(PS: save your skin: get good at clipping/unclipping on grass)
    -ignore the bike snobs. There are lots out there.

    Reply

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